As it turns out, the biggest cause of delayed flights and cancellations since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic is actually the airlines themselves, according to new data from the Federal Aviation Administration. The data is a good way to contextualize growing tension between the FAA and the airline industry as a whole. It can also be looked at as a prelude to the finger pointing between the two entities we’re going to see this summer.
So, what do the numbers tell us? Well, right off the bat we can see that flights were delayed very regularly. Between January of 2019 and February of 2023, 1.6 million flights were collectively delayed 5.3 million hours. That’s over 605 years worth of delays that were primarily caused by issues within the airline’s control such as maintenance and crew problems, aircraft cleaning and baggage loading, according to the data.
FAA data also shows that 1.3 million flights — about 4.7 percent of all flights during the time period — were delayed in January of 2023 when an issue within the national aviation system caused a serious computer outage. It was a nightmare for everyone involved.
We can also see that a whopping 1.5 million flights were delayed by another inbound aircraft arriving late, but it doesn’t explain why those inbound flights were delayed. If I was a betting man, I’d guess the blame lies somewhere within the airline.
The wildest stat from the FAA’s data, though, is one that’ll annoy seasoned travelers. You know how your airline blamed a weather issue for a delay? Some fog, a little turbulence, or a rain shower? Yeah, they were almost certainly lying to you. FAA data shows that bad weather only accounted for 178,000 delays during the time period. That works out to 0.65 percent of flights and likely encompasses delays due to severe winter weather.
In terms of cancellations, over 776,000 flights got the can. That works out to be 2.8 percent of all flights. A further 63,000 — or 0.2 percent — were diverted. We can’t be sure exactly why these things happened, since the FAA didn’t give that information.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s a shit-ton of flights. There must be more planes in the air than ever. Well, the good news is that it isn’t. Over the 50 months referenced in the study, 21.9 million flights — or 79.8 percent — arrived on time. That’s actually right in line with on-time arrival statistics from the previous decade. So, flying does indeed suck, but it sucks just as much as it always has. I suppose you can take some solace in that.